SAN DIEGO - Arnold Schwarzenegger was blunt in his description of his new movie role: Take a knife, cut a head off, kill a guy.
And he was playful in his follow-up.
''You wish you could do some of those things when you're in politics, but you can't," he said as he returned to the mayhem business - movie-style - at the Comic-Con International convention here Thursday.
Tanned and glowing in an open-collared white shirt and sport coat, Schwarzenegger introduced 6,000 roaring fans to his new action film, "The Expendables 2" - and talked death counts with the movie's co-writer and star, Sylvester Stallone.
Schwarzenegger acknowledged being competitive about these things. If Stallone killed 288 people in an action-career clip reel assembled for the convention, Schwarzenegger said his reel racked up 289. And, of course, he growled: "I'm back."
He returns in a cloud of carbon emissions, never mind the signature global warming legislation he enacted when he was California's governor. In the movie's trailer, his character, Trench, tears the door off a Smart Car, smokes bad guys with his machine gun and wags a fat cigar.
His role in the movie, set for release Aug. 17, is more than a cameo, although not quite a lead. Schwarzenegger was flanked on the stage at the San Diego Convention Center by several co-stars, including Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren. They are joined in the movie by Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth and Chuck Norris.
The crowd was clapping, stomping and champing at the bit by the time Stallone, first among his crew, took the stage. But the fans ate it up, down to his growly "Yo!"
But it was lost on no one that Schwarzenegger's appearance marks his return to a film career that will find him taking more substantial action roles, even though he will qualify for Medicare upon turning 65 this month. He will appear in "The Last Stand," a story about border violence set for release by Lionsgate in January, and "The Tomb," expected to be released in fall 2013 by Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment unit.
''The Expendables 2," produced by Millennium Films, is also being distributed by Lionsgate, the mini-major studio that scored a huge, youth-oriented hit with "The Hunger Games" this year. Clearly, Lionsgate is feeling confident that Schwarzenegger still has some of the drawing power he had before he left the film business to run for governor in 2003.
He served in that role for eight years, leaving in 2011 during the bruising breakup of his marriage to Maria Shriver, after he acknowledged that he had fathered a child by their housekeeper.
But before becoming governor Schwarzenegger left Hollywood as a winner; "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," released by Warner Brothers in July 2003, became Schwarzenegger's second-biggest career hit, behind "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," with more than $433 million in worldwide ticket sales.
The film was buoyed by a large international audience, which Schwarzenegger's backers are again banking on heavily: His current projects are all built with an eye toward foreign action fans, who presumably will help pay the bills even if his U.S. viewers don't return.
Asked through a spokesman about career plans last week, Schwarzenegger did not respond. A Lionsgate spokesman declined to discuss the company's investment in his renewed film career.
But Schwarzenegger's idea, according to people who were briefed on his thinking - and who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relations with the actor - is to reboot himself as a kind of younger, rowdier version of Clint Eastwood, who had a hit in 2009 with "Grand Torino" at the age of 78. That is, he means to find age-appropriate roles while joining what he sees as a revival of the action genre, led by "The Expendables 2."
Politicians being a rarity here, Schwarzenegger's appearance lent genuine novelty to a fantasy convention where the outlandish is routine.
Nostalgia was a favorite motif among the thousands of fans on Thursday. In a steam-punk riff, some women were dressed as Gibson girls, wearing wide-brimmed hats and feathered gowns, and carrying camouflage bags and automatic weaponry. Men seemed to lean toward the Mario Brothers, with big mustaches and little caps.
Founded in 1970 as the Golden State Comic Book Convention, Comic-Con arrived this year with a smaller Hollywood presence than has been usual. Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures - which introduced films like "The Adventures of Tintin," ''Avatar" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" here in past years - did not bring major presentations, although all continue to have science fiction, action and fantasy movies on their schedules.
Walt Disney Studios returned to Comic-Con on Thursday afternoon after a one-year hiatus and had one big question to answer: After a brutal year that saw Disney's studio chairman replaced and a big-budget science-fiction film, "John Carter," prompt a $200 million write-down, is the studio finally getting back on track?
The answer, at least judging by the crowd's response to Disney's movie footage, is yes. Three snippets from "Frankenweenie," an animated movie from Tim Burton that is set for October release, had fans laughing; a peek at an intense train sequence from next year's risky "Lone Ranger" film - starring Johnny Depp as Tonto - won prolonged cheers.
Copyright 2012 New York Times News Service